There’s no question that when it comes to food labels, we, as consumers, are completely overwhelmed. From my opinion, there are so many that they feel fake, or misleading (and honestly, most of them are). Natural?? What does that actually mean? Throughout this complete inundation of food labels, the USDA organic certification has appeared to have risen amongst the rest as the “most trustworthy.” And honestly, at this point in time, I have to agree that in terms of the certifications and labels you see from the big box companies in grocery stores, organic probably IS the most trustworthy.
So if organic is accepted as “the best,” what is this regenerative deal? And why is it one step ahead? And why aren’t there certifications for it?
Let’s look at the first question: if organic is accepted as “the best,” what is this regenerative deal?
To reiterate, “regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds, and enhances ecosystem services” (source). Organic farming, on the other hand, asserts all of its principles around the INPUTS on the farm, not the OUTCOME of the farm. Unlike regenerative agriculture, organic agriculture is not defined by its ecological outcomes. According to The Balance: “There is no universally accepted definition of organic farming, but most consider it to be a specific production system that aims to avoid the use of synthetic and harmful pesticides, fertilizers, growth regulators, and livestock feed additives.”
And why is it one step ahead?
Since Organic Agriculture is not defined by its beneficial ecological outcome, it is instead a set of rules that are set by governments who were lobbied by agribusinesses; and is a model that can be corrupted (source). We definitely agree that the inputs to the farm (what it takes to grow the food) are incredibly important. In fact, all of our protocols regarding inputs easily meet organic standards (see protocols). However, we believe that solely looking at the inputs only takes us halfway to where we need to be.
To make an analogy, organic would be like going to the gym, and lifting the same weight without change. On paper, it looks good! You’re going to the gym, you’re lifting a weight! However, if you completely ignore the outcome, then you won’t see any positive change! You’re not going to get stronger if you don’t assess what you’re doing in the gym, see what works, see what doesn’t, and work to get stronger!
The main takeaway here is that regenerative is one step ahead because it focuses not only on the inputs, but on the OUTCOME of agricultural practices. Are we building organic matter in the soil? Are we enhancing water retention? Are we REGENERATING our land?
Finally, why aren’t there certifications for it?
To be sure, there are multiple players working on building a regenerative certification. Patagonia, Savory, and the Carbon Underground. However, with certifications, comes whitewashing of the true meaning behind the certification. From as far as I can tell, most of the players in this space genuinely care about pushing forward true regenerative agriculture, so they are taking a very deliberate and calculated approach to producing a certification, ensuring that the certification doesn’t make the practices lose their meaning. As of now, there is no USDA inspected regenerative certification, which in my mind, might be a good thing, as it prevents corruption and manipulation of the certification.
So if there aren’t any USDA certification, how can I trust this?
I can’t speak for everyone, but for Wholesome Meats, all of our claims are not only true, they are USDA certified. However, don’t take our word for it, or the USDA’s word, come out to a ranch! We’d love to show you around, let you get your hands dirty, and show you true regenerative agriculture. We’re working on building out an online cattle tracker, that will allow you to see with full transparency and traceability, every single step that our animals took throughout their lives (always on grass!).
Thank you for the time, I hope this helps explain how regenerative agriculture is a step beyond organic!